Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

Child's drawing of people with Russian text written. Image links to event page.



Kidnapped Childhood: Russia’s War on Ukraine’s Children
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The forced deportation of Ukraine’s children from Russian-occupied territories has been front-page news since the International Criminal Court at the Hague issued an arrest warrant for President Putin on this charge in March 2023.

The Harriman Institute brings together the founder of Save Ukraine, Mykola Kuleba, filmmaker Tetiana Khodakivska, artist Alevtina Kakhidze, and legal scholar Volodymyr Venher, who will explore different aspects of Russian war crimes against the children of Ukraine in a conversation with Harriman Director Valentina Izmirlieva.

This event will feature the premiere of an art exhibit, the first showing of original artworks created by Ukrainian contemporary artists in collaboration with children, depicting their experiences in what is commonly referred to as Russian re-education camps. These children have been rescued by Save Ukraine.

The artworks were created in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions of Ukraine as part of a mixed-media documentary project about propaganda and manipulation of information, titled ‘The Blue Sweater with a Yellow Hole,‘ by Tetiana Khodakivska and Alevtina Kakhidze. In the two research expeditions, a team trained in trauma awareness and trauma sensitive interview documented stories of the 55 children, evoking memories about manipulations, mental torment, punishments, isolation, stays in psychiatric clinics, and military training. 

A secured database created from this documentation is another important part of the project. The systematized archive will be available upon request for partner research organizations such as the Harriman Institute for their own research on propaganda, information manipulation, and forceful identity transformation.

The database will be an integral part of the Ukraine War Archive, which was founded in March 2022 by a joint team of the NGOs Docudays (the biggest human rights documentary film festival in Eastern Europe) and Infoscope (a UK non-commercial organization that develops and implements technological solutions for data archiving and analysis). The detailed archive currently contains 90 terabytes of data, detailing over 33,000 incidents with 10 million media items. This archive serves researchers, legal experts, and the public by offering a comprehensive catalog with systematized search capabilities

Ukraine War Archive

Read more about the project in the Harriman Magazine.


Mykola Kuleba is a Ukrainian social and political activist and former Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights (2014-2021). With over 25 years of experience advocating for children’s rights, he is a globally recognized child protection expert and has received several international awards for his work, including the Oxi Courage Award and the Manhae Peace Award 2023. In 2014, Kuleba founded the charitable organization Save Ukraine, which is the key Ukrainian institution organizing rescue missions for forcibly deported children. To date, Save Ukraine has successfully repatriated 227 children abducted during the current war in Ukraine.

Tetiana Khodakivska, a Ukrainian filmmaker currently based in New York City, strives to combine pressing social themes with engaging storytelling. Her cinema vérité documentary about mortality, ‘Enticing, Sugary, Boundless, or Songs and Dances about Death,’ was nominated as the best documentary at the Ukrainian Film Academy Awards. Among her other awards is the Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival. Tetiana is particularly interested in examining society from a children’s perspective. In 2023, she initiated a project aimed at addressing the theme of propaganda and manipulation with identity while following and amplifying the voices of repatriated Ukrainian children. As part of the research for the project, Tetiana invited children to draw their memories with Ukrainian renown contemporary artists. Based on two research expeditions to the Kharkiv and Kherson regions and more than 50 documented stories, Tetiana is currently developing a mixed-media animated documentary “The Blue Sweater with a Yellow Hole”. Part of the research for the documentary will be shown during our event, as well as some artworks created during the research expeditions.


Alevtina Kakhidze is an internationally recognized Ukrainian conceptual artist. She came of age as a political activist during the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14, and Russia’s occupation of her native Donetsk region in 2014 further radicalized her art. Since then, she has placed experiences of war at the center of her artistic interventions. Kakhidze regularly exhibits both in Ukraine and internationally. She is the inaugural recipient of the Kazimir Malevich Artist Award in 2008 and has served as the UN Tolerance Envoy in Ukraine since 2018.  In the summer of 2023, she joined Tetiana Khodakivska’s project to conduct drawing interviews with repatriated Ukrainian children. Some of the art generated during these sessions will be on display during the Harriman event.


Dr. Volodymyr Venher is Dean of the Faculty of Law of the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” and Associate Professor in the Department of Jurisprudence and Public Law, conducts comprehensive research on the theoretical foundations and practice of implementing the rule of law and human rights standards in Ukraine. One of the leading Ukrainian constitutional scholars today, he has focused much of his recent work on the forcible transfer and russification of Ukrainian children, analyzing these acts as a genocidal Kremlin strategy for the ultimate destruction of the Ukrainian nation.


Convener and Moderator:

Valentina Izmirlieva is Professor in Columbia’s Slavic Department and Director of the Harriman Institute. She is a scholar of Balkan and East Slavic religious and political cultures, with a focus on multi-ethnic and multi-religious empires and their successor states. The topics of her publications range from the medieval societies of the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, including Kyivan Rus’, to the post-Soviet cultural space. The recipient of many awards and distinctions, Professor Izmirlieva delivered the inaugural Memorial Shevelov Lecture of Ukrainian Studies in 2018. She founded and leads Black Sea Networks, a global initiative to investigate the Black Sea as a hub of cultural, political, and historical interest.

The event is co-sponsored by Columbia Global Centers, Columbia Journalism School, the Institute for Global Politics at SIPA, and the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.

Image: concept art for the documentary “The Blue Sweater with a Yellow Hole” by Alevtina Kakhidze

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